News Detail

Frank Smoll discusses the emotional toll of sport injuries in this Psychology Today article.

The Psychology of Sport Injury TimeoutHow to deal with an unwanted break in participation.

By Frank Smoll


  • Parents and coaches play important roles in the well-being of young athletes.
  • The application of psychology, as well as common sense, can facilitate rehabilitation of sport injuries.
  • Many injured athletes have maintained or improved their skill level with the use of mental rehearsal.

Serious injuries are not common in sports. This is particularly true for athletes less than 14 years of age. Their small size and limited strength combine with safety rules and adult supervision to help minimize the risk of significant injury. Sport injuries become more common in high school, where the intensity of competition increases along with the size and strength of the participants. 

Fortunately, regardless of age, most athletes will not suffer serious sport injuries. And when properly managed, injuries will limit training and competition for no more than a few days.

The Role of Parents

Moms and dads should recognize that it can be very frustrating for athletes to be temporarily eliminated from a sport program. For example, a youngster with promising athletic ability can have future hopes dashed by a severe knee or ankle injury. In such cases, parents must try to 

  • Understand the feelings of frustration.
  • Put up with occasional expressions of this frustration.
  • Support the youngster through a difficult period.

It’s also important to recognize that depression, even if not openly apparent, may occur as a result of a sport injury. Some of the signs to watch for include 

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns.
  • General apathy.

If such symptoms continue or become severe, professional counseling should be sought. If a severe injury occurs to a young athlete, it’s critical that he or she be seen by a sports medicine specialist. Most communities have specialized sports medicine clinics devoted to diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation.

 The Role of Coaches

One of the disappointments of being injured is that the youngster no longer feels like a part of the team. A coach can counteract this by making sure the injured athlete is included in team practices and games in some way. For example, an injured athlete can assist in planning practices and keeping game statistics.

Mental rehearsal is a constructive activity for injured athletes. Coaches can teach athletes how to use imagery to mentally practice their skills. In fact, many injured athletes have reported that they maintained their skill level or even performed at a higher level when they returned because of the use of mental rehearsal.